Seagate learns important PR lesson: keep the customers happy!

First, a disclaimer. Seagate is one of the sponsors of FastCompanyTV (the video network I manage) and has been a great partner of mine for two years.

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Seagate (maker of hard drives and storage devices) has been getting slammed on forums and blogs the past couple of days. Partly because they had a bad batch of hard drives and didn’t properly recognize or fix the problem quickly. Partly because they removed a few anti-Seagate threads from its forums.

I wasn’t asked my opinion about either of these things, but if I had I would have recommended that they jump on the problems and take care of customers quickly and I’d never recommend removing nasty posts unless they explicitly broke some rule like using nasty language or being racist or something like that. Why? A happy customer will tell maybe a handful of people. If you are really lucky, like Apple, they’ll blog about it.

But an angry customer? They’ll tell 30 times more people. And, because negative news gets more attention, it’ll spread much, much faster.

And an angry customer that had a post deleted? They’ll find 20 other places to spread their anger and get you to pay attention to them. At Microsoft I called this “throwing a brick through the window to get your attention.” Incoming!

A great reputation can go down in flames in a weekend. Which is what was going on. Bricks were flying through the window and, like usually happens when bricks fly, that gets people to start seeing the implications to the business and paying attention to customers again and making sure they are happy.

Which is what Seagate was working this weekend.

One thing, if you have troubles with your Seagate drives, let me know. I’ll find out what’s up, as I did in this case. It might take a day or two but we’ll get you taken care of. This is one reason I love Seagate. They’ve always taken care of problems for me and I love their products and we use them all over the place (and I’ve bought most of my own Seagate drives too, both before and after they’ve been a sponsor).

The folks I talked with at Seagate apologized for not taking care of this issue faster and better.

Here’s the details they just sent me (Engadget also covered this news):

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Seagate has isolated a potential firmware issue in certain products, including some Barracuda 7200.11 hard drives and related drive families based on this product platform, manufactured through December 2008. In some circumstances, the data on the hard drives may become inaccessible to the user when the host system is powered on*.

As part of our commitment to customer satisfaction, we are offering a free firmware upgrade to those with affected products. To determine whether your product is affected, please visit the Seagate Support web site at http://seagate.custkb.com/seagate/crm/selfservice/search.jsp?DocId=207931.

Support is also available through Seagate’s call center: 1-800-SEAGATE (1 800 732-4283)

Customers can expedite assistance by sending an email to Seagate (discsupport@seagate.com). Please include the following disk drive information: model number, serial number and current firmware revision. We will respond, promptly, to your email request with appropriate instructions. There is no data loss associated with this issue, and the data still resides on the drive. But if you are unable to access your data due to this issue, Seagate will provide free data recovery services. Seagate will work with you to expedite a remedy to minimize any disruption to you or your business.

For a list of international telephone numbers to Seagate Support and alternative methods of contact, please access http://www.seagate.com/www/en-us/about/contact_us/
*There is no safety issue with these products.

Seagate's future now that colorful Bill Watkins is out of CEO job

First, a disclaimer. Seagate is the sponsor of my video show at FastCompanyTV. It has been my biggest partner in the journey I’ve been on for the past three years and it’s been very tough watching my friends there deal with some very tough business issues which ended this week in the ousting of Bill Watkins, CEO. Here’s the details on that from CNN Money.

Bill is always good for a fun quote and is one of the nicest guys I’ve met and dealt with in the tech business. He started as a surf bum and moved through the ranks at Seagate. It’s an American success story that looked like it would have a great ending. But not this time.

One thing I always loved was that Bill said outrageous things. This always made it difficult to find a seat next to him at dinners because press people would jockey to see if he’d say something quotable.

But the really outrageous thing he said that probably cost him, and lots of others at Seagate, their jobs is the lack of fire about SSD. Bill never had a very satisfactory answer about SSD and the market doesn’t like it when a storage company doesn’t have a good answer. That might have made Bill’s life tough anyway this year but the economic downturn turned up the heat too much on Seagate. Add into that Bill’s lack of fire about the coming economic downturn (in an interview last year he told me he wasn’t seeing any downturn) didn’t demonstrate authoritative leadership.

I really will miss Bill. He was my biggest supporter. He loved social media and gave me my break and not asked much in return. He, and his team, are a dream client. They don’t come along very often. It’s a bummer to me personally to watch Bill and the executives at Seagate (and other companies, cause most are going through the same tough times) have to negotiate very turbulent waters.

Here’s what Seagate needs to do to get out of its funk and be in a good position for when the economy repairs itself:

1. Have a good story about SSD. I know they are working on one, but they need to get there and fast. Lots of netbooks (the hottest things at CES) don’t have hard drives and are using SSD’s instead. Lots of enterprises are putting more and more of their data on SSD-based storage. Seagate needs to have a good answer to these trends and fast. Seagate already has world-class manufacturing experience, which we witnessed close up when we visited its hard drive factory in China. Now it needs to demonstrate it can build other things than just hard drives.

2. Seagate needs to be a bigger player in cloud-based services. Everytime I hear about Amazon S3 or Rackspace’s Cloud or Google’s App Engine I wonder why didn’t Seagate get into that business, especially since Seagate’s business is about storage of the world’s digital data (it’s hard to rip out beliefs that Seagate is a hard drive company). Why not do a partnership with one of these companies to get its brand out there? Most people don’t know that these companies use mostly Seagate drives (Rackspace told me they only use Seagates and when I was in a Google data center I only saw Seagate drives). Is there any way they can change that so that they can build a consistent brand across both enterprises and consumer devices? Every Seagate drive should come with a cloud partner built in. Imagine if your Seagate drive built an Amazon S3 service automatically and shared its stuff there?

3. Seagate should either bet the company on consumer stuff, or stay out. I like what it is doing with its HD media sharing device but not putting an HDMI connector on it ensured that Engadget and Gizmodo will not approve. I walked around with Best Buy’s strategy guys at the Consumer Electronics show and they want gadgets like that, but they are a lot like Engadget’s reviewers. No HDMI? It’s going to be tough to get past them. Seagate needs to do what Palm Pre did. Go all the way or don’t show up for the game. Also, Seagate should associate itself with all the cool companies that are making devices that use storage, like the new Pogoplug or the Drobo unit that takes multiple hard drives. My photography friends love those and if they came filled with Seagate drives it’d be a good thing all around.

4. They need to see the new trends faster. All my friends are building data center racks in their homes to store their bittorrented videos. Some already have 20 terabytes of drives. But Seagate’s latest USB drives, while very cool looking, quiet, and colorful, aren’t designed to be put into a nicely designed rack next to an HD screen. Hint: we don’t want to see tons of wires. We want to store them out of the way of our young kid’s prying fingers. But when I told them about the idea of a rackable set of USB drives they didn’t quite get why that’d be important. Go hang out with anyone who has a Canon 5D MKII and see how many hard drives they buy.

5. Continue to use social media to build relationships and demonstrate industry leadership. Here I think they are actually going in the right direction. They opened a friendfeed room for people to discuss Seagate’s stuff with them and for them to post what is most interesting for their customers. They sponsor my show, which gets them good coverage on Facebook, Twitter, Friendfeed, blogs, and all that. But they need to go further. They still haven’t quite figured out that they can use these services to actually design products and understand the market faster than their competitors. This will be very important to them as they move into the consumer space and work to diversify their product offerings.

6. But worst of all, they MUST regain the “biggest, cheapest, fastest and quietest” leadership in hard drives. Lots of my friends are buying Canon 5D MKIIs that chew through storage at a huge rate. But will these people buy Seagate drives or will they buy something else? Whoever has the biggest cheapest fastest and quietest drives will win their dollars. Seagate fell behind last year and, while they are leading again now, must make dramatic pushes forward.

7. Finally, Seagate needs to ask more of me for its investment in social media and my show. That exercise I’ll leave for the readers. What should Seagate do with bloggers, video bloggers, and people who hang out on social networks? If you were at Seagate what would you ask me to do in return for your marketing dollars?

Anything else that Seagate should do?

Win a Seagate FreeAgent|Theater HD on Twitter and friendfeed

Want to be one of the first to try out the Seagate FreeAgent|Theater HD media player device? It comes out in March, but you can win one today. Here’s the first way to win:

How: Be one of the first 10 people to meet me at the Seagate meeting room on Thursday, January 8, 2009 at 1 p.m. PT. Bring a business card or contact info so we know where to ship your prize. You must be a member of Twitter or friendfeed.
What do I win?: You’ll be the first to get a new FreeAgent Theater HD Media Player when the product ships in March. It’s your chance to enjoy digital media on your TV with a cool product that won a CES 2009 Innovations Award.
Where: Las Vegas Convention Center, South Hall 4, Room S215-S216

“But, Scoble, I can’t go to CES.”

Well, there’s a second way to win:

Be the one to tell the winner about the contest. “Huh?” Well, if you retweet my Twitter message and the person who shows up tomorrow says that they learned about the contest from you, you win the device too.

We did this earlier in the year where we gave away a bunch of hard drives. One of the winners lived in India. So, this is a world-wide contest. Just retweet this blog post around. See you tomorrow!

Seagate avoids Scoble Blindness with new HD media sharing and storage device

Alan Wolk made an important point for marketers: do not get blinded by “Scoble blindness.”

What is “Scoble blindness?” Making products just for Scoble, or thinking that I, or my behaviors online, represent the mass market. Alan is right. They do not. But more on that later.

Here Seagate, our premier sponsor over on FastCompanyTV (they have sponsored my video shows for several years now, which lets me go around the world and meet the top tech entrepreneurs and innovators), shows they get this better than anyone with its introduction of Seagate’s FreeAgent|Theater HD media player (we have exclusive video to show you what the device does). The New York Times wrote up more on the device.

Did they make a geeky media center device that can do everything that geeks want? That will thrill me and my fellow geeks? No.

They saw that normal people (those people who don’t yet know what Twitter or friendfeed are) are having tons of troubles just getting the photos they shot on their new digital camera up on their big HDTV. Or, maybe they got a new FlipCam HD and they want to play their videos on their screen to show their neighbors.

They saw that normal people don’t yet care about playing YouTube videos or doing Internet stuff like I do on my MacMini (and you probably do too).

So, they designed a product for the rest of the people. Here’s why the geeks might care too. My dad, for instance, wants to see videos and photos I shot of our 16-month-old son, Milan. But he doesn’t want to go to the trouble of going to Flickr, looking through all the pictures I shot of tech execs and other things, just to find the photos I shot of Milan.

Using Seagate’s new FreeAgent|Theater I just bring a hard drive over with those videos and photos, plug it into the USB port on the new device, and they show up on his HDTV. It’s that simple. No setting up Internet accounts. No struggling with going through all my other stuff.

Will I have one attached to my TV? No, I already have a bunch of ways to view that content (and have had for years) but will I get my dad one? Absolutely! Now I can bring him new videos and photos just by bringing a hard drive over. Cost? $130 (plus the cost of the USB-hard drives). Comes out this spring.

That’s a good example of avoiding “Scoble blindness.”

Now, in regard to Alan’s post, I think he got a lot wrong about what I do. I travel the world and talk with tons of “normal people.” I understand them a lot better than you will ever get from my blog. But I am not passionate about having conversations with them about technology. They don’t read blogs, they don’t hang out on twitter, and they aren’t addicted to friendfeed yet. So, excuse me if I’ll stay focused on what I’m passionate about here and on Fast Company TV: bringing you the most interesting people and ideas in the tech industry.

You can’t serve everyone in a blog. If I started writing posts for “normal people” then the advanced people in the audience would get turned off. This morning I spoke to an audience at the Consumer Electronics Show that was very advanced. How do I know that? Most of the audience was using TweetDeck. If I started talking to them about basic stuff like “this is Google, here’s a blog, here’s a YouTube video” they would have laughed me off the stage.

So, I’ll take the “Scoble blindness” abuse in stride. That means that I’ve done a great job of serving the audience I want to serve: you!

UPDATE: Want to try one? We’re running a Twitter contest to get some into your hands. More details on that shortly.

See a hard drive being made

It’s not every day you get access to a plant in China that makes something inside your computer or game console or car. A few weeks back we visited Seagate’s Wuxi plant which makes more than a million hard drives every week. Employs more than 10,000 people.

Seagate has been my partner for several years now and sponsors my show, which is why I was the first American blogger to get access to this plant. Obviously I appreciate everything Seagate does for me and social media (they are playing around with FriendFeed and Facebook, their FriendFeed room is here).

This is also my 100th video. Thanks to Rocky Barbanica for his role in producing and editing these videos. Greatly appreciate that too.

Seagate is a dream client. They rarely ask me to do anything. They’ve never forced me to put interruptive advertising up or asked for anything that was anti community or viewer. That’s HUGE in this world and I hope that they continue to drive down the price of storage the way they have for about 30 years.

Thanks and hope you enjoy getting this look inside the factory in Wuxi, China.

In one person's career…

I interviewed Brian Dexheimer who works for Seagate. He’s worked there for 24 years.

He told me that when he started working for Seagate selling hard drives the devices were as big as a file cabinet, only held 300 megabytes, and cost $12,000.

The drives Seagate started selling this week are about the size of a paperback book, hold 500 gigabytes, and cost $200 retail.

I love this industry, don’t you?

I’m so glad Seagate sponsors my show over on FastCompanyTV.

Use Twitter or FriendFeed and win a new Seagate Drive

Disclaimer: Seagate is one of my sponsors and this post is part of that sponsorship.

Next week Seagate will announce some new hard drives on Tuesday — they are pretty cool drives, I got a preview under embargo that’ll run on Tuesday, September 16th 2008, on FastCompanyTV. Bill Watkins, CEO, will ring the bell at NASDAQ. But here’s a way you can win one of these new drives by doing nothing but using FriendFeed or Twitter.

On Tuesday at noon Eastern I’ll be standing by the Kodak sign in New York City’s Times Square (on side of Marriott Marquis hotel). I’ll have 20 drives. First 20 people to show me what Twitter or FriendFeed account they learned about the contest from will win a drive. So that’s one way you’ll win a drive, but that requires you to be in Times Square on Tuesday at noon. Not that easy for most of you.

But, not only will those 20 people win drives, but the 20 people who they learned about the contest from will also win a drive (we’ll send those to you).

All you need to do is Twitter or FriendFeed about the contest, tell your friends who’ll be in New York on Tuesday to come by and pick up a drive and you’ll win a drive too (these are cool drives, by the way, more about them on Tuesday).

Oh, and what happens if one of the 20 say they learned about the contest from me? Well, we’ll put that drive in a pool and randomly give it away to someone who Twittered or FriendFeeded about it.

Why only Twitter or FriendFeed? Because they both have great search engines that we can use to track your Tweets or FF items.

Make sure you include the word “Seagate” in your post. Also, yes, lawyers are involved and Seagate will have some rules and regulations up shortly and I’ll link to those on Monday.

Some ideas to help you win? If you have friends in NYC, make sure they know about the contest. Blog about your Tweet/FF item. Digg your Tweet/FF. Email your Tweet/FF around.

Any questions?